Football and food, bustling night life, vibrant beaches, art and architecture… do you need more reasons to head to Las Ramblas?
The sea breeze welcomes me as soon as I hop off the tourist bus. I crane my neck and look up at a 200 ft tall pillar named after the man who discovered the new world. And standing there, in bronze is a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing his finger at an unknown land, presumably the land beyond the seas. There are sculptures galore around the pillar and I see some tourists waiting for the lift to take them atop the 18th century monument.
It is indeed apt that I should begin my tour of Barcelona with its most famous, picturesque and bustling thoroughfare, La Ramblas with the Monument Colum, dedicated to Columbus who reported to his royal patrons King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella here in Barcelona, after his discovery. But then there is more to La Ramblas than just Columbus. It is not just a road, but a tree-lined pedestrian mall where the oldest trees planted here are more than 300 years old. La Ramblas, I am told was once a dry bed with little streams of sewage water flowing around. It was converted into a street in the 15th century and it later became a hot bed of festivals, local markets and art shows.
I cross the road and a riot of colours greets me. I meet Galileo, smeared in copper paint, with a mounted telescope, offering to show me a bit of his world for a Euro. Tapas bars lure me. A live band plays while artists paint portraits and caricatures of people. The energy is addictive. A feast to the eyes, this little more than a km walk to Plaza De Catalunya has kiosks selling everything from souvenirs to flowers. There are human statues everywhere painted in different colours and posing as explorers, scientists, film stars and musicians.
Barcelona spoils me with choices. Football and food, bustling night life and vibrant beaches, art and architecture lure tourists here. But as my travel companion told me over drinks last night, “If there is one place which has the essence of all of it , then it is La Ramblas. “And he was right. If the southern end of La Ramblas has the Columbus monument and the old port of Barcelona, Port Vell, the northern end leads to one of the largest squares, Plaza De Catalunya, where the old and new cities merge. Walk along the east and you find the ancient Gothic quarter of Barcelona with its tiny maze of streets that connect you back to La Ramblas. And in the west, one finds the old neighbourhood of El Raval.
I sit at a pavement café and watch the sea of people. Some head to the famous Liceu theatre, while others go to the Virreina Palace. I walk to the La Boqueria, one of the oldest public markets in Barcelona. I am taken in by the beautiful floor mosaic on the ground. And I stop by to look at the beautiful facades of the buildings. One of them catches my attention. It’s decorated with umbrellas and a dragon mounted atop it keeps a watch on the street. This is the Bruno Quandras building, which once manufactured umbrellas but is now a bank. But the quaintness of the building is typical of the artistic world of Barcelona. And one man who has left his legacy behind in avant garde monuments, in colourful tiles, in curved walls and roofs, in twisted columns and spiral chimneys, and in a distinctive architectural style is Antoni Gaudi.
If you walk along this vibrant road beyond the square, it leads you towards the world of Gaudi. Everything about his style is larger than life. There are surprises when you least expect them, in colours, forms and even structural designs. And they seem like a journey into an unexplained world of emotions, a search for something that is new and different.
But I am content to stay at La Ramblas even as the clamour of feet increases by the minute and it gets flooded by tourists. As the sun sets, I decide to head back to catch the bus, but before that I make a final stop at the Font De Canaletes, a beautiful fountain. I quench my thirst here, only wishing that the traditional belief of whoever drinks from this fountain would return to Barcelona, will come true soon for me.